Casey Sheahan is the CEO of Patagonia
For decades, natural gas (methane) has been touted as a greener energy alternative to coal, when, according to a new Cornell University study, in considering its whole lifecycle, natural gas appears to be worse for climate change than the coal industry and is more toxic to the environment and human health.
The driver of gas’s green halo is true: methane burns cleaner than coal, thus contributing less to global warming during combustion. However, the fracking process—the only way industry knows how to get the gas that’s left—releases significant amounts of methane, unburned, directly into the atmosphere. When methane isn’t burned it’s 20X more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. Combine that with the 1000 truck trips, on average, 2-8 million gallons of water, and 10,000-40,000 gallons of chemicals used per well. Sixty percent of those chemicals can harm the brain and nervous system, 40 percent are known endocrine disrupters, 30 percent are suspected carcinogens, 30 percent are developmental toxicants. In fact, the natural gas industry is the only industry that permanently removes water from the natural water cycle. There is no way to clean the toxicants to make the water usable again. That means that every drop of water used for fracking is a drop less that it will rain.
In Colorado, where the industry has a long history and is expanding rapidly, there are more than 5000 documented spills of toxic chemicals or “produced” fracking water. 1000 of those spills occurred in Weld County, CO alone and research shows that more than 43 percent of them have impacted rivers and drinking water sources. In Erie, Colorado, elementary school children study with a noisy, dusty, toxin filled well 350 feet from their school. Not surprisingly, they have rapidly rising asthma rates, bloody noses, and increasing GI tract issues.
Up until the last decade, we were able to poke holes in the ground and “strike it rich.” Today, all of the easy-to-get petroleum and gas is gone and we’re turning to these extreme toxic extractive measures like offshore drilling and fracking to get the goods. Why aren’t we, instead, turning rapidly to renewable energy sources?
What’s ridiculous is that Colorado has been hailed by many as a “hot spot” for renewable energy— wind, solar and geothermal could power most of Colorado today if we put our minds and investments to it. Yes, solar panels, are currently made using petroleum and metals that, when extracted, also toxify the earth. However, just like we at Patagonia are striving to move to infinitely recyclable materials, so too are the solar and wind industries. The point is, we have the technology and knowhow to move to a nontoxic, renewable energy economy today and yet we’re choosing not to. And, by the way, studies show that moving to renewable energy would produce more short- and long-term jobs than the natural gas industry.
This is why we at Patagonia supported an event on October 23rd called Frack Free Colorado on Capital Hill in Denver. Modeled after New York’s successful “Songs Against Drilling” event earlier this year, Frack Free Colorado brought together rock stars like Jakob Dylan and Rami Jaffee of the Wallflowers, Colorado favorite, Elephant Revival, celebrities like Daryl Hannah, Mariel Hemingway, Leilani Munter, car racing’s Carbon Free Girl, acclaimed scientist and author Sandra Steingraber and renewable energy luminaries to educate Coloradans on the issues surrounding fracking and to rally Colorado’s leaders to move the state to a renewable energy economy as quickly as possible. We, along with a number of other business leaders believe it’s time.
For those who doubt the increasing volumes of science showing that fracking is bad for the environment and bad for our health, I say to you, let’s give the benefit of the doubt to our children. Let’s make them proud that we moved to clean energy before it was too late.